Standing in front of the fish counter to choose a healthy fish for dinner can feel like a daunting task. You might ask yourself:
- “Should I choose farmed or wild?”
- “Which fish is high in mercury?”
- “Is canned fish a good alternative?”
According to Seafood Health Facts, Americans eat 14.6 pounds of seafood per person each year. For comparison, annually we eat 53.3 pounds of beef, 57.7 pounds of chicken and 600 pounds of dairy products per person.
Fish and seafood are incredibly nutritious sources of protein. Plus, they provide us with things like vitamin A, vitamin D and anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats. Eating fish even just one night a week could quite possible make a positive impact on our health and waistlines.
Let’s address those common questions about fish and seafood to make your next visit to the fish counter much less overwhelming.
Which fish is high in mercury? Should I even be concerned?
Due to the direct pollution of waterways from coal-fired power plants many types of fish and seafood now contain high levels of mercury. High amounts of mercury can damage the brain and nervous system. Unborn babies and young children are especially susceptible to mercury poisoning.
A general rule for avoiding toxic mercury is to think small. This means choosing small fish and shellfish like sardines, squid and scallops instead of large fish like tuna, shark and swordfish.
The reason why is because small fish are lower on the food chain. When the big fish eats the small fish, the predators absorb the mercury contamination present within them.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) provides a Smart Seafood Buying Guide to help you make seafood choices that are low in mercury. Some of the seafood they suggest that have the lowest amount of mercury include: anchovies, butterfish, catfish, clams, crab, freshwater trout, herring and mackerel. You can find their full guide here.
Should I choose farmed or wild fish?
We should be concerned about the health and well being of the fish we eat as much as we’re starting to pay attention to the welfare of the chicken, beef and pork we enjoy.
Most farmed fish and seafood are fed low quality diets and in very close confinement — nothing like their natural environment. Not to mention the runoff from fish farms pollutes waterways and contaminates the marine ecosystem.
There are some exceptions. The Environmental Defense Fund has deemed commercially available mussels, clams, oysters, and bay scallops as healthy and eco-friendly.
The Seafood Watch Pocket Guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium can help you decide which seafood in your region is healthiest and best for the environment. Download their app by clicking here.
Is canned fish a good alternative to fresh?
The short answer is yes. Some canned fish can be an excellent alternative to fresh fish. Not to mention the convenience of canned fish for lunch or to make a quick dinner makes it a pantry staple.
The National Resources Defense Council lists canned salmon on the “least mercury” list of their Smart Seafood Buying Guide. Canned light tuna also has less mercury than white albacore, which is on the “high mercury” list.
As with most package products it’s important to be informed about the company you are purchasing your canned fish from. Check out their website and see where they stand when it comes to ensuring the health and welfare of the fish they are selling you.
My preferred brand is Wild Planet. Their fish is 100 percent sustainably caught. Plus, they catch smaller tuna ensuring that you are receiving a fish that is lower in mercury. I also am a big fan of their sardines packed in water.
Curious about sardines? They are a nutritional powerhouse that you should definitely consider including in your diet. Check out my video that will debunk the mystery of opening a can of sardines. Trust me, it’s not as scary as you think!
Tanya McCausland, NC, practices Holistic Nutrition at Simply Well in Carlisle. She supports clients through nutrition and lifestyle counseling focused on hormone balance, digestive health, pre/post natal nutrition, food allergies and many other health challenges. Learn more about her and her programs at www.homecookedhealing.com.